“Biblical” – the most abused term in the english language

I am convinced there must be a chart somewhere that contains all the Bible verses that are approved to quote on Facebook and Twitter. Every time I see people quote the text its always Jeremiah 29:11 and never Jeremiah 13:14. There is a huge diversity of texts and categories of texts and voices in the Bible, yet there is a very small proportion of those that are memorized, quoted, and beloved.

And yet, we often like to call things “biblical” and think about questions like “is that the biblical way?”

Turns out “biblical” is one of the most abused words in the English language, and what we imply comes from “the Bible” actually comes from a tiny minority of our favorite verses extracted out of the Bible, not by any means all of it. This post is an ode to those oft ignored categories of passages that don’t fit our concept of “biblical.” It is also reminder that our Bible is not composed of only the 10% that we like to quote and simply extract theology from, rather it’s a complicated book that requires much careful thinking and nuance.

As you read these, ask yourself an honest question, are any of these things “biblical?”

1. Exclusion of handicapped people

As though having your penis cut off is not already the worst form of torture, in addition such a person was not allowed to go to “church.” (And if it’s impolite to talk about such things, tell the author of Deuteronomy, not me.)

  • “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.” (Deut 23:1)
  • No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long.” (Lev 21:17-18)
  • “For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles.” (Lev 21 18-20)
  • No descendant of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s offerings by fire; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the food of his God… he shall not come near the curtain or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries; for I am the Lord; I sanctify them.” (Lev 21-23)

2. A ton of death penalties

Surprisingly, many Christians assume that the Bible is against the death penalty. Others talk about applying “biblical” discipline and punishment to their children and to societal criminals, without really thinking about what that means.

  • “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother [they] shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders… then all the men of the town shall stone him to death.” (Deut 21:18-21)
  • You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31:14)
  • “They found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day…so all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Number 15:32-36)
  • “When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And any outsider who comes near shall be put to death.” (Numbers 1:51)
  • “As for anyone who presumes to disobey the priest appointed to minister there to the Lord your God, or the judge, that person shall die.” (Deuteronomy 17:12)
  • “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife.“ Deuteronomy 22:23-24

3. Tons of rules about sex and detailed regulations about the genitals

Most “Bible believing Christians” squirm at language that speaks of sexuality/genitals, yet in the greatest form of irony known to man, the Bible is actually filled with a vast amount of explicit language that has to do with sex and genitals. While your local pastor would blush at saying “semen” in a sermon, God has no problem with it.

  • Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother.” (Genesis 38:9)
  • If a man lies with a woman and has an emission of semen, both of them shall bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:18)
  • If a man has an emission of semen, he shall bathe his whole body in water, and be unclean until the evening.” (Leviticus 15:16) (I’m curious, what’s a man doing having an emission of semen all by himself?)
  • “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean.” (Leviticus 15:19)
  • Yet she increased her whorings, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt  and lusted after her paramours there, whose members [genitalia] were like those of donkeys, and whose emission [ejaculation] was like that of stallions.” (Ezekiel 23:19-20)

4. Very vulgar, vindictive, and vicious curses 

Do you think God is loving, kind, merciful, always forgiving? Perhaps you need to read the Old Testament a little bit more. The picture of God described by the ancient Hebrews is very different than you hear in the average Christian church, though understandably the New Testament depiction of Jesus is far more attractive.

  • “I in turn will punish you myself sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.” (Lev 26:28-29)
  • “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh because their enemies will press the siege so hard against them to destroy them.: (Jeremiah 19:9) 
  • I will smash them one against the other, parents and children alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.” (Jeremiah 13:14)
  • You shall betroth a wife, but another man will violate her” (Deuteronomy 28:30)
  • This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” (2 Samuel 12:11)
  • The Lord will afflict you with the boils of Egypt, with ulcers, scurvy, and itch, of which you cannot be healed… blindness, and confusion of mind; you shall grope about at noon as blind people grope in darkness.” (Deuteronomy 28:27-29)
  • The Lord will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions, and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out, day after day, because of the disease.” (II Chronicles 21:14-15) 

5. Frequent mention of defecation (pooping)

Whether you prefer to use the medical term “feces,” the giggly children’s term “poop,” or the common vulgar “sh*t” the fact is most Christians feel the this is a topic far too obscene. Yet, the biblical authors had a great deal of liberty to use the word dung in dozens of places, context, and speeches, some of the purported to be God’s direct words. If God can talk about spreading poop over your face, is it still a vulgar phrase?

  • I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung [poop] upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.” (Malachi 2:2-3)
  • “Thus says the Lord: ‘Human corpses shall fall like dung upon the open field’” (Jeremiah 9:22)
  • “They will perish forever like their own dung” (Job 20:7)
  • ‘The people sitting on the wall, who are doomed with you to eat their own dung and to drink their own urine?” (Isaiah 36:12)
  • You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.  The Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them… Then he said to me, “See, I will let you have cow’s dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread.” (Ezekiel 4:12-15) 

6. Very brutal forms of violence against outsiders

Most modern Christians are very nice and believe in “turning the other cheek” yet, there are many biblical texts that are more in line with “tear off their cheek/”

  • Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.” (Joshua 6:21)
  • “When the letter reached them, they took the king’s sons and killed them, seventy persons; they put their heads in baskets and sent them to him at Jezreel.” (2 Kings 10:7)
  • “David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king” (1 Samuel 18:27)
  • “Samaria will be held guilty, for she has rebelled against her God. They will fall by the sword, their little ones will be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women will be ripped open.” (Hosea 13:60)
  • “Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” (1 Sam 15:2-3)
  • “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” Psalm 58:10

7. Really weird/gross rituals and ceremonies

There is a lot in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, the rituals and ceremonies are among the top of all of these things. Speaking so graphically about ripping out the intestines from an animal to burn them with poop is not appealing to anyone. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy to summarize these massive sections of text with “it’s just means Jesus was going to be the sacrifice” instead of actually reading, memorizing, or sharing these types of verses.

  • “But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, as well as its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— all the rest of the bull—he shall carry out to a clean place outside the camp, to the ash heap, and shall burn it on a wood fire; at the ash heap it shall be burned.” (Leviticus 4:11-12)
  • The priest Eleazar shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times towards the front of the tent of meeting. Then the heifer (female cow) shall be burned in his sight; its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. The priest shall take cedarwood, hyssop, and crimson material, and throw them into the fire in which the heifer is burning. (Numbers 19:4-6)
  • “the firstborn of a cow, or the firstborn of a sheep, or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall dash their blood on the altar, and shall turn their fat into smoke as an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the Lord” (Numbers 18:17)
  • “the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys. 16 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire for a pleasing odor.” (Leviticus 3:15-16)
  • “Then the priest shall put these curses in writing, and wash them off into the water of bitterness. He shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter her and cause bitter pain… if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall discharge, her uterus drop, and the woman shall become an execration among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be immune and be able to conceive children.” (Numbers 5:23-28)

 8. The unbiblical definition of marriage

Often you will find people arguing for a “biblical definition of marriage” when it comes to modern cultural trends, unfortunately most of these people don’t know the Old Testament definition of marriage.

  • “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God hands them over to you and you take them captive, suppose you see among the captives a beautiful woman whom you desire and want to marry, and so you bring her home to your house: she shall shave her head, pare her nails, discard her captive’s garb, and shall remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:11-13)
  • “When brothers reside together, and one of them dies… the brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband’s brother to her… But if the man has no desire to marry his brother’s widow… then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and declare, “This is what is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
  • If his [slave]master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone.” (Exodus 21:4)
  • “I [God] gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives [plural] into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” (2 Samuel 12:8)
  • “If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives.”
  • “And Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai… He went in to Hagar.” (Gen 16:2-4)

9. Holy nudism that feels awkward

There are some weird examples of nakedness in the Bible, not many, but enough to make us go “huh??”

  • “The spirit of God came upon him. As he was going, he fell into a prophetic frenzy, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night.” (1 Samuel 19:23-24)
  •  “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take your sandals off your feet,” and he had done so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years ” (Isaiah 20:2-4)
  • “For this I will lament and wail;I will go barefoot and naked; I will make lamentation like the jackals,and mourning like the ostriches.” (Micah 1:8)
  • “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25)
  • When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20

10. Strange commands that make us cringe

Besides the many “good laws” that we usually don’t obey, because they require far too much sacrifice, there are also a lot of very strange laws and rules that make absolutely no sense. Fortunately, we can say “most are Old Testament” and ignore the fact that most examples are not specifically rescinded in the New Testament.

  • Do not mate two different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two different kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven from two different kinds of thread.” (Leviticus 19:19)
  • “These you shall regard as detestable among the birds. They shall not be eaten; they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, the osprey… There are, however, some flying insects that walk on all fours that you may eat: those that have jointed legs for hopping on the ground. Off these you may eat any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper.” (Leviticus 11:13,21-22)
  • “If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity.” (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
  • If someone dies very suddenly nearby, defiling the consecrated head, then they shall shave the head on the day of their cleansing; on the seventh day they shall shave it. On the eighth day they shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest.” (Numbers 6:9-10)
  • “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.” (Exodus 21:20-21)

 

In the end, it’s not enough for something to be “biblical” it must be “Christlike.”

4 responses

  1. Hi, Yuriy —
    I just left a very lengthy “comment” on your post about earning grace. I was worried that maybe you had abandoned your blog. Then I found your home page.
    Anyway, just in case you don’t see that other “comment,” I’m leaving this contact here.
    Sorry I don’t have time right now actually to read this post. It looks very interesting, though! :-)
    Peace,
    — KC

  2. hello sir … the topics are so eyeopening and edifying.
    Yet this particular article, I could not understand the point. Would you please simplify the matter.?

  3. There is a difference in God’s Law and Jewish Law. These things (Especially Levitical Laws) were made for setting Jews aside from the Gentiles. Thank God I am a Gentile, Saved by Grace!

  4. I’d prefer to be saved from God, from Christians, from other Gods, from other religions, from True Believers, from the True Beliefs, from the superstition, from the purveyors of the so-called “Truth”.

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